Circus News

Behind the Scenes at Mullum Circus Festival With Ciara Thorburn

Mullum Circus Festival is an exciting 3 day event in Mullumbimby, on the east coast of Australia near the Gold Coast. The festival is packed full of Australian circus talent, with workshops all day, and performances all night. At the 2017 festival from September 29 to October 1st, there were opportunities to see incredible shows by companies like Casus, One Fell Swoop, Trash Test Dummies, Jugg Life, Poncho Circus and many more. There were also the opportunity to take workshops from artists such as handbalancer and acrobat Alex Mizzen, acrobatics duo Annalise Moore & André Augustus, acrobat Chris Carlos, members of Casus, Byron Hutton & Joe Fisher of Jugg Life.

I had the chance to speak with Ciara Thorburn, an Australian circus artist and student at the National Institute of CircusArts (NICA) and former classmate of mine there. Ciara went to Mullum Circus Festival to perform, teach workshops, see performances and attend workshops from other artists. Before we hear from Ciara, let’s learn a little bit about the history of the festival!

A Short History of Mullum Circus Festival

The festival started as The National Circus Festival by a clown and magician named Tony Rook. Each year, Australian street performers and circus artists would make a pilgrimage to a private part of the bush in beautiful Tasmania for the festival before it relocated to Mullumbimby. As the website says:

“Each year, as word spread of this unusual, eccentric gathering of circus artists The National Circus Festival grew and grew. Tony Rooke carefully managed the environmental impact on the bush valley by minimising landfill, sorting rubbish and asking people to take it with them. He collaborated with organisations such as Spaghetti Circus, to host the festival in other locations in Australia to reduce impact on the bush. In 2001, the Spaghetti Circus proudly hosted the first Mullum Circus Festival with Tony.”

The website goes on to give you a glimpse from the past of this this unconventional and whimsical festival.

“In the lead up to the festival performers would try out their wildest new ideas, or improvise new acts with old friends on a purpose built ‘Renegade’ stage. Then the gates would open and the orchard and fields would fill with visitors, with more and more returning each year to camp, watch shows, partake in a workshop or three, eat, drink and laugh together as a community and dance till dawn, in the wooden Bedouin tent dressed up to the nines.”

Interview with Ciara Thorburn
Photo courtesy of Ciara Thorburn

Ciara Thorburn is a circus artist, variety performer, children’s entertainer, clown, MC, cabaret luminary, and human being. Ciara is a passionate, progressive, and creative artist based in Melbourne, Australia. She is currently a 3rd year at the National Institute of Circus Arts, specializing in clown and chair stacking. Ciara went to Mullum Circus Festival to perform as well as teach workshops in balloon twisting. I asked her about the Australian circus scene, and about her experience at Mullum Circus Festival.

What were the top 3 favorite shows you got to see and why?

There were so many amazing shows on the program, I couldn’t possibly have had a chance to see them all. My favourites of the fest were Splash Children are Stinky (Malia Walsh and Chris Carlos), Captain Frodo’s Magic Show and Splash Test Dummies (the brand new show brought to you by Trash Test Dummies). As a children’s entertainer, I am a sucker for kids shows! But these three shows had it all, skills and characters great for kids, and scattered with subtle adult humour to keep us wanting more.

Who were you excited to take workshops from and why?

I was excited to have the opportunity to learn from some great world class performers, including Captain Frodo’s ‘Get your Act together’ class, and Dandyman’s (Daniel Oldaker) improvisation workshop. These guys are comical geniuses and have technical timing down to a fine art. The opportunity to learn and workshop creative ideas with them in such a supportive environment was an unmissable opportunity. From a technical skill based perspective, I was excited to be able to get advice on technique and creative collaboration from the boys from Jugg Life (Byron Hutton and Joe Fisher). Their workshops helped me to improve my juggling technique, collaborate with other punters with some pass juggling, and helped me to facilitate ideas to create a choreographed ring routine.

What was your experience like at Mullum being able to perform as well as teach workshops for that community?

It was great to showcase my skills as a trainer as well as a performer, and bring added value to the festival. I had the opportunity to meet so many great people in the training week, and enthusiastic punters over the festival weekend. Performing enabled me to reach a large number of people showcasing my Bubblegum Bitch act, and was great to talk and get feedback from a variety of other performers at the festival.

 Can you tell me more about your Bubblegum Bitch act? Where did you get the inspiration? Describe the character.

Bubblegum Bitch is an act I have been working on for the past year within my clowning specialty at NICA with Ludwig. I first started to develop the character with Hayden Spencer in Cert 4 [NICA]. I have also worked a little under direction of Carita Spencer on the character recently.

The character is a bouffant style character who indulges and delights herself unashamedly with Bubblegum. The act can be classified as variety performance featuring character work, mouth juggling and magic.

What do festivals like Mullum Circus Fest add to the Australian circus community?

I attended my first Mullumbimby Circus Festival six years ago in 2011, where I first met two of my great friends (who would go on to become my future ensemble members at NICA) Zion and Jordan. That year I also tried out Chair Balancing for the first time ever, which would go on to become my specialty that I am now studying at NICA. These two aspects alone have been invaluable to me, and shaped who I have become as an artist. The connections and networking opportunities at Australian circus festivals are huge. They bring all of us together, working and performing together, even just for a week, from all over Australia and all over the world. There really is nothing else like it.

What did you learn from this trip?

Reflecting on the last two Mullumbimby Circus Festivals I attended, I realised how far I have come and how much I have grown in the last few years. I realised how strong my roots are here in the Australian circus community, how much I have learned and have been shaped (and continue to grow) with those around me.

Fiona Bradley
Performer, Writer, Administrator -United States
As an artist, Fiona Bradley hopes to use circus as a platform to discuss social issues, to create inspiration and to fulfill their own need for connection. Fiona's current home is in Chicago. They are the social media and community manager for CircusTalk as well as a founding member of Semi-Circus and ensemble member in Aura Curiatlas. They received a Certificate IV in Circus Arts from the National Institute of Circus Arts in Australia and they continue their education where ever they go. As well as being a performer, Fiona is interested in circus management. They would like to connect people in the circus world (as well as outside of the circus world) and create an open and empowering community for everyone who is interested! This is one of the reasons they work as the social media and community manager for CircusTalk.

Fiona Bradley

As an artist, Fiona Bradley hopes to use circus as a platform to discuss social issues, to create inspiration and to fulfill their own need for connection. Fiona's current home is in Chicago. They are the social media and community manager for CircusTalk as well as a founding member of Semi-Circus and ensemble member in Aura Curiatlas. They received a Certificate IV in Circus Arts from the National Institute of Circus Arts in Australia and they continue their education where ever they go. As well as being a performer, Fiona is interested in circus management. They would like to connect people in the circus world (as well as outside of the circus world) and create an open and empowering community for everyone who is interested! This is one of the reasons they work as the social media and community manager for CircusTalk.

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